Tea and secrets
Laura woke in the flat for the second time. This time she remembered straight away where she was, and that Joseph had gone. Irritated, she dressed herself in the borrowed clothes and made for the kitchen – now she really did need tea, and to sort this mess out. If he thought she was going to sit here twiddling her thumbs with just Jeannie for company he had another think coming.
But it wasn’t Jeannie she found drinking tea at the kitchen table, it was Mrs Patterson. She stared at the old lady in confusion.
“What are you doing here?”
“Joseph asked me to come.”
“But how did he know to ask you? I never mentioned you to him,” she paused, frowning, “I don’t understand.”
“Sit down Laura, we need to have that chat now.”
So Laura sat at the glass table and listened, as Mrs Patterson talked to her about the links that had drawn them together in this strange chain of events.
Laura learned that when she had felt such relief on finding the flat in Kings Avenue, that feeling of being home at last, Mrs Patterson had also felt a connection. She had sensed something special in Laura, soon noticing how she saw things, how she was aware of her surroundings, her innate curiosity. She had loved having her around, and despite their age difference the two women had slipped easily into a relationship of good friends as well as landlady and tenant.
“I knew you were a solitary soul, content in your own company. We all are.”
“I do have friends you know Mrs P, there’s Rani, and…” Laura broke off, “what do you mean we?”
Mrs Patterson ignored her question for the moment and kept chatting, apologising for trying to sort out her social life for her, for worrying too much.
“That’s why I suggested you go to the cemetery a few weeks ago, I just thought you might meet some nice people. I had no idea there was an open entrance up there.”
“So you knew where I’d been? I don’t get it, why didn’t you say something?”
“I tried, but you didn’t seem to want to tell me. I could tell something had happened, I even thought I could smell lamp oil on your jacket. I rang Joseph straight after you came back, but he wasn’t there, I had to leave a message on his machine.”
“I still don’t understand, how do you know about it all?”
Mrs Patterson took a sip of her tea and carried on with her explanation. She told Laura how a handful of people held the secret, acting as guardians where there was a risk. She herself had been a link, when she was young and fit, handing on the task to Joseph’s father before it fell to him in turn. Others kept watch, or shielded the evidence from prying eyes. All worked mostly alone for their own protection, only communicating with each other if absolutely necessary.
“We all came from the same families originally, the ones who worked on the water, the ones who first saw, many generations ago.”
Laura was thinking, “So the woman at the Transport Museum library?”
“Yes, Elizabeth, an old friend. She came to see me after your visit.”
“And in the archives at Boston Spa?”
“No, the collection there is just heavily guarded. ‘National security’ is a wonderfully useful concept.”
“And now there is me.”
“Yes. I’m sorry.”
“It can be a heavy burden, and it’s one you never lose.”
“Is that what you meant by ‘we’?”
“In a way yes, but I was also talking about who you are, as well as what you are.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I saw it in you, when we first met. It’s hard to explain but it’s a way of being: sometimes slower, sometimes quiet, always listening, always able to see.”
“They said I could see on that first day, I remember. They said I saw them from the train but I was the only one.”
“Yes. Anyone can have it but few do. It is more common in children but they lose the ability as their senses are drowned out by everything around them: television, computers, there’s such an onslaught nowadays. You are one of the lucky few Laura, though you might not think so at this moment.”
Laura didn’t know what else to say.
Mrs Patterson then had some questions of her own, wanting to know all about what had happened to her, what the Sea Mer had said and what was written in the message. She frowned as Laura told her, but then brightened for a moment when she heard about the Gathering. She reminisced about Gatherings she had been to in the past, and clearly the food hadn’t changed much over the years. She recalled that there had been talk of a rising once before, but this time it seemed much more serious.
Finally Laura broached the subject that seemed most pressing, her apparent incarceration in the show flat.
“I don’t really have to stay in here do I?”
“Yes I’m afraid you do. Joseph was right, from what he and now you have told me there is every possibility that they will try and take you again if they think things are not going their way. They seem to think that you are their best chance. Without you they are weakened as we don’t believe they would ever attack the Margrave directly.”
“What about work?”
“I have already telephoned and spoken to your superior, a woman – quite rude – and told her you are unwell.”
“Yes that was her name, most unpleasant.”
“And where is Joseph anyway?”
Surely Mrs Patterson would be able to tell her, but if she knew she was not letting on, and all she said in response to Laura’s question was:
“He thinks he may be able to find a solution, so he has gone away to try.”
And for the moment at least, that appeared to be that.